Posts Tagged ‘Tokyo’

Visitor Q

Friday, January 22nd, 2010


Visitor Q
2001, 84 minutes
directed by: Takashi Miike

Visitor Q is a movie from the prolific, controversial, and successful Japanese director Takashi Miike. It promises to be, in a film series that has certainly already featured some weird films, to be even weirder. For Miike is known for two things: 1) making a lot of movies and, 2) sometimes making some unbelievably weird movies. A number of his films have been remade by American production companies, one of the most recent of which was The Eye, starring Jessica Alba. Time magazine called Visitor Q “meta-weird,” which, depending on how you look at it, is either slightly intriguing or mildly depressing. In either case, it makes me completely sick of the prefix ‘meta-.’


Now, a few of the films selected for this “Future is Asian” series were intended to emphasize the current spate of extremely shocking, disturbing, and taboo-breaking films that are coming out of some parts of Asia, primarily Japan, and to a lesser extent South Korea. The general idea was that these uninhibited explorations of the fringes of human behavior could possibly provide some otherwise unavailable humanistic ideas. Maybe these relatively nascent cinematic cultures could utilize the dominant medium of film in a new way that would make all else obsolescent. In short, maybe something new could come of it. Maybe, somewhere in all of this weirdness, is the shock of the new—the Future. And there are few intentionally, deliberately, and successfully weird films as Visitor Q.


But in a sense, these “extreme” Asian films may be a perfect manifestation of what Paul Virilio was talking about when he wrote about “the vulgarization of techno-scientific progress” as being the driving force of history since the age of Gutenberg’s printing press. To summarize: in an age where techno-scientific progress is the primary goal of the people, it naturally follows that the extremes are the points of interest. Thus, it is the hallmark of the Modern age that the mass media would reward any “revolutionary abnormality.” Some people have seized upon this train of logic to explain our cultural fascination with industrial tycoons, serial killers, pro athletes, celebrities, scientists, and terrorists. For when an idea of progress is the goal, the only thing worth talking about is that which is better/faster/stronger/more extreme than what came before it.


Looking at these ‘Asian extreme’ films in the light of Paul Virilio, it becomes clear that these Japanese films, far from being the future, could be seen as stolidly Modern. Although any visit to Tokyo is likely to make you think you jumped into the future, if you think about it, maybe the reverse is true. You see, Japan, as savvy as it is with engineering and robotics, is still operating an industrial economy where manufactured cars and consumer electronics are keeping them afloat. The advances that are occurring that could possibly be post-Modern, in the realm of wireless communication, internet software, information technology, Web 2.0, and the like, are being made largely on the coasts of California. Tokyo, then, is the future as we imagined it 50 years ago.


Of course, this is all assuming that the Modern age is bound to be over soon, if it isn’t already, as some writers and thinkers like Mario Carpo suggest. Carpo says that what ended the Modern age was a shift of dominant media, from mechanically reproducible identical images to digital variance. If we then take Virilio’s ideas of modernity into account, then it would seem to argue for a future that is based in something other than primarily military-industrial, techno-scientific progress, which in turn would then seem to imply a shift away from the fetishization of transgression.

In conclusion, if you are a country with a strong, conventional military, well-manufactured electro-mechanical products, and really weird movies, then maybe you are not the future.

-    quang truong (originally written February 19, 2008)

The Future is Asian

Monday, February 16th, 2009


This next theme for this blog’s Film Architecture series is “The Future is Asian,” and will review a selection of films from various East Asian countries in an exploration of the cinematic products of a region of the world experiencing rapid economic and cultural change. Cities are being designed, developed and built at a heretofore unprecedented size and scale in Asia; it is a scale of architecture and planning for which we have as yet no theories. It is the missing XXL in Rem’s compendium of scales; it is the asymptotic limit to which no European dogma has a response. Right now, we have no criteria or ideas by which to judge, critique, or evaluate what is going on in the East. To put it academically, nobody knows what to say about Asia.

This selection of films, then, will attempt to survey the culture-scape of certain East Asia countries through their films—a contemporary medium which traffics their images, projections, fears, ideas, and narratives. Certain cinematic themes and tendencies are starting to emerge from Asian films which are having a broader impact upon the world than the previous generation of Asian films. Akira Kurosawa, for instance, was critically canonized but never really broadly imitated here in America; whereas 2007’s Academy Award for Best Picture went to an Asian film remade by Martin Scorsese (The Departed was a direct remake of Hong Kong filmmaker Andy Lau’s Infernal Affairs), and the current spate of horror and suspense films such as The Ring, The Grudge, One Missed Call, the Saw or the Hostel series are all either directly influenced by or literal remakes of Asian films. Accordingly, one focus of this semester’s theme will be on what has been loosely dubbed “Asian Extreme” films. These are films that have a level of violence—emotional, physical, sexual, or otherwise—which has surpassed anything imagined anywhere else. To anyone who has experienced the machinic orderliness of Tokyo to the “anything-goes” atmosphere of Seoul, these are the cultures which have been exporting the ideas and imagination that shapes the way the cities of tomorrow will be materialized. As architects, our responsibility is to shape the future of the built environment with our ideas, our skills, and our judgment. As such, it’s important that we give more than a passing glance towards Asia. The past is European. The future is Asian.

4/10/2006: TKO’ed in Tokyo

Friday, December 26th, 2008

I spent two weeks in Tokyo before starting grad school, and it was one of the most memorable places I visited in my round-the-world trip. There’s something to Tokyo that everybody should experience at least once in their lives. Here’s some notes I wrote about Sofia Coppola’s movie Lost in Translation, which was filmed in Tokyo.


Lost in Translation (2003), 102 minutes

Ah, Sofia Coppola, who was raised from the dead like Lazarus after her character (and seemingly her Hollywood career) was killed in the last scene of her father’s disastrous Godfather III with her subdued and restrained directorial turn in her adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides. That movie seemed to explore, more than anything else, how many aspects of cinematic directing she could imbue with the qualities of “quiet and suggestive.” It also could be used as a great study of mid-century suburban America, in particular her handling of the landscape of contrasting claustrophobia/agoraphobia in the alternating landscapes of the typical suburban home placed in the vast spaces of intra-coastal agri-expanses.

With Lost in Translation, she seemed to gain the confidence to explore her hipster filmmaking with a looser and more unrestrained hand. Bill Murray, who has shown an almost completely singular steady professional ascension turns in a searingly memorable performance here as a washed up movie star pitching mid-level Japanese whiskey (in a scene so impressive I was compelled to reenact it when I was in Tokyo this summer). Sofia Coppola apparently wrote the role with Bill Murray explicitly in mind. If that is the case she certainly shows a talented touch with actors; she pulled a decent performance out of the otherwise painfully indistinct Joshua Hartnett in The Virgin Suicides and was at least partially responsible for launching Scarlett Johansson’s career by casting her in Lost in Translation.

Also, her touch in selecting music deserves mention: for The Virgin Suicides she commissioned one of the French band Air’s best albums as a soundtrack, effectively introducing the now popular band to American audiences for the first time. Here in Lost in Translation she coerced Kevin Shields (of the cultishly popular band My Bloody Valentine) out of retirement to record his first material in over 15 years, a move akin to somebody convincing Bobby Fisher to play chess again. She also continues to showcase little known French bands, this time selecting a song from the little known but devilishly catchy French-pop band Phoenix. The matching of sounds and scenes seems to be a particular talent for Sofia Coppola; she loves to juxtapose and match sounds to cinema-scapes. For instance, the contemporary French ambience-techno of Air played over the mid-century American suburban landscapes for The Virgin Suicides; the ethereal post-punk instrumentals of Kevin Shields layered over scenes of both the sterile corporate interior of the Park Hyatt Hotel and the neon chaos of metropolis Tokyo. It’s as if Ms. Coppola is trying to find the sound of a space.

It may be interesting to note that the field of cinematic sound editing offers certain insights into how we experience space; for instance, the processing of ambient sound directly correlates to shifts in scenes/spaces. The ambient sound of an empty hallway with doors closed is distinctly different from the sound of an empty hallway with doors open, and it is easy to imagine, though not necessarily immediately apparent, that the ambience sound (and what is termed as “presence” in film sound theory) and acoustic properties are much different between interiors and exteriors, and even between similarly sized interiors lined with different materials. We all know that various stereo receivers, through digital equalizers, are able to mimic the acoustic properties of spaces as varied as stadiums or small cafes. This is all studied and documented distinctly in film and may be an interesting point of study: how our sense of hearing alone affects our understanding of space and materials.